Wednesday, November 15, 2017

The Rogochover and More

The Rogochover and More

Marc B. Shapiro

In a recent Jewish Review of Books (Summer 2017), I published a translation of an interview R. Joseph Rozin, the Rogochover, gave to the New York Yiddish paper, Der morgen zhurnal. You can see the original interview here. The fact that the Rogochover agreed to the interview is itself significant. As is to be expected, the content of the interview is also of great interest.

In the preface to the interview, I mentioned that the Rogochover famously studied Torah on Tisha be-Av and when he was an avel, both of which are in violation of accepted halakhah. When he was once asked why, while sitting shiva, he learnt Torah, he is reported to have replied:[1]

ודאי, עבירה היא זו, וכשאקבל עונש על שאר עונותי יענישוני אף על עון זה, אבל אני אקבל באהבה וברצון את העונש על חטא זה, וכדאית היא התורה להלקות עליה

R. Yissachar Tamar cites an eye-witness who reported that the Rogochover said basically the same thing in explaining why he learnt on Tisha be-Av, and noted how wonderful it will be to be punished for studying Torah.[2]

ומה נעים לקבל צליפות על עסק התורה

The Hazon Ish was told that the Rogochover learnt Torah when he was in mourning and that he made another antinomian-like comment in justification of his behavior, namely, that he wants to be in the gehinom of those who learn Torah. The Hazon Ish replied that “this gehinom is the same gehinom for the other sins.”[3]

The various comments quoted in the name of the Rogochover show his great need for studying Torah, a need that simply did not allow him to put aside his Torah study, even when halakhah required it. Yet the antinomian implication of the Rogochover’s comments was too much to be ignored. R. Gavriel Zinner’s reaction after quoting the Rogochover is how many felt.[4]

ולא זכיתי להבין, הלא מי לנו גדול מחכמי הגמ' שנפשם ג"כ חשקה בתורה ואפ"ה גזרו שבת"ב ובזמן אבל אסורים בלימוד התורה, ועוד שאחז"ל הלומד ע"מ שלא לעשות נוח לו שלא נברא.

It is thus to be expected that some authors deny that the Rogochover could have really said any of what I have quoted. And if he did say it, they feel that it must have been merely a joke or a comment not meant to be taken seriously, or that he did not want people to know the real reason he studied Torah while in avelut (namely, the Yerushalmi which will soon be mentioned).[5] R. Abraham Weinfeld goes so far as to say, with reference to one of the comments I have quoted that “It is forbidden to hear these words, and Heaven forbid to suspect that Rabban shel Yisrael [the Rogochover] would say this.”[6] 

Those who refuse to accept that the Rogochover meant what he said are forced to find a halakhic justification for his behavior, and indeed, when it comes to an avel studying Torah (and this would also apply to Tisha be-Av, the halakhot of which are not as stringent as those of personal mourning), there is a passage in the Yerushalmi, Moed Katan 3:5, that permits Torah study for one who has a great need.[7]  (This heter is not recorded in the Shulhan Arukh, but this would not have concerned the Rogochover.[8]) Yet it is important to remember that as far as we know the Rogochover never cited this passage in the Yerushalmi as justification for his studying Torah when he was sitting shiva.[9]

Now for something disappointing and even a bit shocking: Here are the two pages from R. Shlomo Yosef Zevin, Ishim ve-Shitot (Jerusalem, 2007), pp. 75-76, where you can see one of the“controversial” quotations (which as R. Zevin notes is taken from an article in Ha-Hed).


R. Menahem Kasher quoted the entire two pages from Ishim ve-Shitot in his Mefaneah Tzefunot (Jerusalem, 1976), pp. 1-2 in the note.


Look at the end of the first paragraph of the note on p. 2. The "problematic" quotation of the Rogochover, saying that he will happily be punished for his sin in studying Torah, as the Torah is worth it, has been deleted. Instead, the Rogochover is portrayed as explaining his behavior as due to the passage in the Yerushalmi. While all the other authors who discuss this matter and want to “defend” the Rogochover claim that his real reason for studying Torah was based on the Yerushalmi, in R. Kasher’s work this defense is not needed as now we have the Rogochover himself giving this explanation!

Yet the Rogochover never said this. R. Zevin’s text has been altered and a spurious comment put in the mouth of the Rogochover, By looking carefully at the text you can see that originally R. Zevin was quoted correctly. Notice how there is a space between the first and second paragraphs and how the false addition is a different size than the rest of the words. What appears to have happened is that the original continuation of the paragraph was whited out and the fraudulent words were substituted in its place. Yet this was done after everything was typeset so the evidence of the altering remains.

Look also at the third paragraph where it says

ההד, שם

However, this makes no sense as R. Zevin’s reference to Ha-Hed has been deleted. I do not see how anyone other than R. Kasher could have been responsible for this particular "editing." 

As mentioned, many were troubled by the Rogochover’s antinomian-like comment.[10] Yet he is not the only one to speak like this. R. Joseph Hayyim (the Ben Ish Hai) in his Benayahu refers to an unnamed gaon who also learnt Torah when he was in avelut. When asked about this he did not refer to the Yerushalmi but answered in an antinomian fashion just like the Rogochover: “I know that I am violating the words of the Sages, and I know that on the day of judgment I will certainly be punished for this, but he [!] is prepared and willing to suffer and receive this punishment whatever it will be, because he is not able to withstand the pain of avoiding the study of Torah which is as difficult for him as death.”[11] Benayahu appeared in 1905. I do not think it is possible that at such an early date R. Joseph Hayyim could have heard a story about the Rogochover, so he must have had another great rabbi in mind.

The Lubavitcher Rebbe told a similar story.[12] When he was a youth, he had a teacher from Lithuania who lived in his home. He once found this teacher learning on Tisha be-Av. Young Menachem Mendel asked the teacher how is it that he was learning Torah on that day. The teacher replied: “When I come to the World to Come, I will be punished for one reason or another. I will be happy if I know that the reason I am being punished is because I learnt on Tisha be-Av.”[13]

The following subversive story with R. Israel of Ruzhin is also of interest, as it too shows a violation of accepted halakhah regarding Torah study on Tisha be-Av. It appears in R. Mordechai Hayyim of Slonim, Ma’amar Mordechai, vol. 2, p. 206.

הרה"ק מרוזין שהה פעם בימי בין המצרים במעינות המרפא, וביום צום תשעה באב אחר חצות היום, אמר לאחד מבני לוויתו שילמוד מסכתא משניות, ויעשה סיום בליל מוצאי התענית, ויסמכו על זה הקהל אשר שם ויאכלו בשר ואמר בלשו"ק: רבי שמואל קאמינקער אמר, שסיום מסכתא משניות חשוב כמו סיום מסכת גמרא, ועל רבי שמואל קאמינקער יכולין לסמוך כמו על אחד מגדולי הפוסקים. ועל האיסור ללמוד בתשעה באב אחר חצות, דאס נעם איך אויף מיר, און לאזן אידן עסן פלייש . . .

Returning to the interview with the Rogochover, he cites Maimonides who says that the word “Germany” is derived from the Hebrew word gerem, meaning “bone.”

Mishnah Negaim 2:1, in a passage that tells us how things used to be, says that Jews are neither black nor white, but in the middle (meaning, a Middle Eastern look). At the beginning of the Mishnah it speaks of a white spot that appears on a white man and on a black man. The word the Mishnah uses for “white man” is גרמני (German), and for “black man” it uses כושי. Germania was the Roman term for the area we call Germany, so it makes sense that the Mishnah, in describing a white man, would use that term.[14]

Apparently, Maimonides did not know the word גרמני. Thus, in his commentary to Negaim 2:1 he offers the explanation mentioned by the Rogochover, that גרמני is related to the word for bone. (In the interview, the Rogochover says that Maimonides refers to the Hebrew word גרם, but I wonder if this was a mistake on the interviewer’s part, as the word used by Maimonides is the Aramaic גרמא). Here is R. Kafih’s translation:

גרמני שם הלבן ביותר מיוחס אל העצם אשר שמו גרמא

Leaving aside the matter of the correct historical etymology, I wonder if Maimonides saw a problem with his explanation, namely, that for “black man” the Mishnah uses an ethnic identification, so one would expect it to also use such an identification in describing a white man. Furthermore, why would the Mishnah use an Aramaic word instead of the Hebrew עצם?

R. Elijah Benamozegh wonders how Maimonides did not realize what גרמני is referring to:[15]

והפלא על חכמת הרמב"ם שכתב כן ועשה עין של מעלה כאלו אינה רואה שדברי חז"ל מעידים ומגידים שגרמני שם אומה, לא זולת, ומה ענין לגרמא עצם בל' ארמי?

R. Meir Mazuz asks, “How could Maimonides not have thought of this?” namely, that גרמני means German.[16] He explains that Maimonides was an Arabic speaker, and the way he knew Germany was by the term Alemannia. As such, when he saw the word גרמני in the Mishnah, since he did not know the term “Germany” he was forced to come up with a different explanation tying גרמני to “white.”[17]

What R. Mazuz did not know is that this explanation is not original to Maimonides and must reflect an earlier tradition.[18] I say this because R. Hillel ben Elyakim of Greece, who lived in the twelfth century (that is, contemporaneously with Maimonides) independently mentions this explanation. In his commentary to Torat Kohanim, ed. S. Kolodetzky, vol. 1, p. 190, he writes:

ומנלן גרמני הוי לבן כדגרסי' בכל מקום גרמני מוכר כושי וכאן כושי מוכר גרמני דהיינו לבן דעצם מתרגמינן גרמא ועצם הוי לבן.

R. Hillel cites Bereshit Rabbah 86:3 which states: “Everywhere a white man (גרמני) sells a black man (כושי), while here a black man is selling a white man.” He also says דעצם מתרגמינן גרמא. If you look at Onkelos and Targum Ps. Jonathan to Genesis 2:23 this is exactly what you find.

When I found what R. Hillel wrote, I was quite excited, as I thought I had discovered something that no one else had taken notice of. Yet I later found that Jacob Nahum Epstein had already called attention to this in his notes to the commentary attributed to R. Hai Gaon to Seder Toharot (Berlin, 1921), p. 94 n. 32. He assumes that R. Hillel predates Maimonides:

ר"ה מארץ יון בפי' ספרא דף קי"ג ב' ור"מ אחריו הוציאוהו מן "גרמא", עצם!

Returning to the Rogochover, everyone knows that the he put Maimonides above all other authorities. However, R. Zevin, Ishim ve-Shitot (Jerusalem, 2007), p. 125, calls attention to an example where in a practical halakhic matter the Rogochover rejected Maimonides’ view. See She’elot u-Teshuvot Tzafnat Paneah, vol. 1, no. 34:[19]

ואף דרבותינו הראשונים ז"ל וגם רבנו הגדול הרמב"ם לא ס"ל כן עפר אני תחת רגליו אך העיקר כמ"ש לדינא

The Rogochover’s sharp tongue is well known. For an example of how the Rogochover could even speak disrespectfully about the Tosafists, see Rav Tzair, Pirkei Hayyim (New York, 1954), p. 163.[20] Rav Tzair recalls how as a yeshiva student he went to meet the Rogochover where, we can only say, he was “blown away.” He writes:

אחר כך פנה אלי ואמר לי: ואתה בחור למה באת? יש לך קושיא, אמור! מלמלתי בבהלה את הקושיא שהיתה, כפי שאני זוכר, בתוספות של מסכת בבא מציעא, בדיני הפקר ומציאה. על זה השיב לי בבהלה כדרכו. הא, בתוספות? התוספות לא ידעו מה הם סחים; ("תוספות האט געפלוידערט"). נבהלתי, כמובן, לשמוע את הדיבורים הללו, ומלים נעתקו מפי. אמר לי, מה אתה נבהל? אני אראה לך כמה וכמה תוספות שלא הבינו את הגמרא, והתחיל להביא תלי תלים של דברי תוספות מכל הש"ס, והכל בעל פה, על פי הדף ודיבור המתחיל, ועירבב דבר אחד בשני ובבלי בירושלמי, עד שראה שראשי היה עלי כגלגל וחדלתי להבין את המשך הענינים.

Rav Tzair, ibid., p. 164, also mentions the Rogochover’s negative comment about R. Isaac Elhanan Spektor:

הנה הזקן יושב לו בקובנה וכותב ומדפיס וכותב ומדפיס עד אין סוף! מי מבקש זאת ממנו? כלום ספרים חסרים בעולם? הנה זקנך, ששמעתי עליו שהוא בעל-הוראה, יושב ופוסק שאלות. זה הכל מה שצריך. כל הרבנים הכותבים ספרים אינם יודעים בין ימינם לשמאלם.

Zvi Hirsch Masliansky, Maslianky’s Zikhroynes (New York, 1924), p. 107, who has a very negative view of the Rogochover, also records how he denigrated R. Isaac Elhanan as well as R. Samuel Mohilever and the Hibbat Zion movement. He further mentions that the Rogochover disparaged his own rebbe, R. Joseph Baer Soloveitchik:

צוזאמען מיט זיין גוואלדיגען זכרון, האט זיך ענטוויקעלט אין איהם זיין ווילדער עזות און חוצפה צו מבטל זיין אלע גאונים צוזאמען מיט זיין גרויסען רבי' רבי יוסף בער.

See also R. Nathan Kamenetsky, Making of a Godol, pp. 743, 747, for other times that the Rogochover insulted R. Joseph Baer Soloveitchik. (On p. 744 Kamenetsky writes that the Rogochover received semikhah from R. Soloveitchik.)

Masliansky’s Hebrew autobiography is not an exact translation of the original Yiddish. (The English version is a translation from the Hebrew.) The Hebrew edition does not contain the passage just quoted. It also does not contain Masliansky’s concluding negative comment, p. 108:

ער האָט זיך צושריען און צוהיצט, און האָט צומישט און צופלאָנטערט פערשיעדענע ענינים, און ער האָט מיר אויסגעוויזען ווי א פאציענט פון א משוגעים הויז. איך האב אים נאָר ניט גענעטפערט; איך בין ארויס א פערטרויערטער און געדעקט: "אָט דאָס זיינען דיינע גאונים, מיין פאָלק ישראל!"

Kamenetsky, Making of a Godol, p. 747 n. b, mentions the Hebrew edition's deletion of these "revolting lines of the original text." We have a number of descriptions of the Rogochover from people who met him, and while all portray him as unusual, none have the negative spin of Masliansky. Perhaps it was the Rogochover’s anti-Zionism that turned Masliansky against him.  
R. Moshe Maimon called my attention to She’elot u-Teshuvot Tzafnat Paneah ha-Hadashot (Modi’in Ilit, 2012), vol. 2, p. 391 (unpaginated), where we see that in newly published material the Rogochover referred to the Vilna Gaon as “Rabbenu ha-Gra.” This is significant because in the interview I published the Rogochover was hardly complimentary to the Vilna Gaon.[21]
She’elot u-Teshuvot Tzafnat Paneah ha-Hadashot is quite an interesting publication and includes the Rogochover’s notes to some poems of R. Judah Halevi. It is not that the Rogochover had any great interest in Halevi’s poetry. However, the Rogochover was one of those people whose mind was such that he had something to say about everything he read.
I encourage anyone interested in the Rogochover to watch this wonderful video by Louis Jacobs. The Rogochover was one of Jacobs’ heroes, and somewhere he mentions that the Rogochover was one of the people he would have loved to have met.
Regarding Bialik’s visit with the Rogochover that I mentioned in the Jewish Review of Books article, Maimon called my attention to this article by Noah Zevuluni [22]. For more on the meeting of Bialik and the Rogochover, see Doar ha-Yom, Jan. 10, 1932, p. 2, and Davar, April 17, 1935, p. 16 (where it mistakenly states that Bialik said that you could make ten Einsteins out of one Rogochover. He actually said that you could make two Einsteins out of one Rogochover.). The last two sources were brought to my attention by R. Shimon Szimonowitz.
Yossi Newfeld called my attention to the following two works focused on the Rogochover: Regarding the Rogochover and the Lubavitcher Rebbe, there is an MA dissertation by Yisrael Ori Meitlis, “‘Ha-Lamdanut ha-Filosofit’ shel Rabbi Yosef Rozin bi-Derashotav shel Rabbi Menahem Mendel Schneersohn (ha-Rebbe mi-Lubavitch),” (Bar-Ilan University, 2013). There is also the volume Ha-Tzafnat Paneah be-Mishnat ha-Rebbe (Brooklyn, 2003). In a previous post I called attention to R. Dovber Schwartz's wonderful book The Rogatchover Gaon.
It is often said that the Rebbe received semichah from the Rogochover, yet there is no documentary evidence of this. The origin of this notion might be the Rebbe’s mother, who stated as such. See the comprehensive and beautifully produced new book on the Rebbe by R. Boruch Oberlander and R. Elkanah Shmotkin, Early Years.
In my article I mentioned the Rogochover’s unique perspective on the halakhic status of civil marriage. Those interested in this topic should consult R. Menahem Mendel Tenenbaum, Nisuim Ezrahiyim be-Mishnato shel Ha-Rogochovi z”l (n.p., 1988). This book contains an analysis of six responsa of the Rogochover on the topic.
One final point I would like to make about the Rogochover relates to his view of secular studies. He was one of those who responded to R. Shimon Schwab’s query about the halakhic validity of the German Torah im Derekh Eretz approach.[23] You can find his letter in Ha-Ma’yan[24] 16 (Nisan 5736), pp. 1ff. Among the significant points he makes is that, following Maimonides, a father must teach his son “wisdom.” He derives this from Maimonides’ ruling in Mishneh Torah, Hilkhot Rotzeah 5:5:
הבן שהרג את אביו בשגגה גולה וכן האב שהרג את בנו בשגגה גולה על ידו. במה דברים אמורים בשהרגו שלא בשעת לימוד או שהיה מלמדו אומנות אחרת שאינו צריך לה. אבל אם ייסר את בנו כדי ללמדו תורה או חכמה או אומנות ומת פטור.
He adds, however, that instruction in “secular” subjects is not something that the community should be involved in, with the exception of medicine, astronomy, and the skills which allow one to take proper measurements, since all these matters have halakhic relevance. In other words, according to the Rogochover, while Jewish schools should teach these subjects, no other secular subjects (“wisdom”) should be taught by the schools, but the father should arrange private instruction for his son.
רואים דהרמב"ם ס"ל דגם חכמה מותר וצריך אב ללמוד לבנו אבל ציבור ודאי אסורים בשאר חכמות חוץ מן רפואה ותקפות [!] דשיך [!] לעבובר [צ"ל לעבור] וגמטרא [!] השייך למדידה דזה ג"כ בגדר דין.
He then refers to the Mekhilta, parashat Bo (ch. 18), which cites R. Judah ha-Nasi as saying that a father must teach his son ישוב המדינה. The Rogochover does not explain what yishuv ha-medinah means, just as he earlier does not explain what is meant by “wisdom,” but these terms obviously include the secular studies that are necessary to function properly in society.
The publication of this letter of the Rogochover was regarded as quite significant. Yet as far as I know, no one has pointed out that the main point of the letter had already appeared in print. In 1937 R. Judah Ari Wohlgemuth published Yesodot Hinukh ha-Dat le-Dor. On p. 250 he included the following comment of the Rogochover, found in the margin of Rogochover's copy of the Mishneh Torah, Hilkhot Rotzeah 5:5.
נראה לי דר"ל שאר חכמות גם כן חייב האב ללמדו
Excursus 1
For another example of Maimonides offering a speculative etymology for a word he did not know, see his commentary to Yadayim 4:6 regarding the word המירם. In his commentary to Sanhedrin 10:1, Maimonides explains the term אפיקורוס as coming from an Aramaic word. This is surprising as Maimonides knew of the Greek philosopher Epicurus and refers to him in Guide I:73, II:13, 32, III:17. (Even if Maimonides had not heard of Epicurus when he wrote his commentary on the Mishnah, we know that he revised this work throughout his life and yet he never altered his explanation of אפיקורוס.) See Arukh Shalem, ed. Kohut (Vienna, 1878), s. v. אפיקורוס. See also R. Yitzhak Sheilat, Hakdamot ha-Rambam (Jerusalem, 1992) p. 185, who believes that Maimonides knew the real origin of the word but was only following the Talmud’s “midrashic” derivation of the term from the Aramaic word אפקירותא  (see Sanhedrin 100a). See also R. Hayyim Yehoshua Kasowski, Otzar Leshon ha-Mishnah, s.v. אפיקורוס:
וע"פ דמיון השם הזה אל הפעל פקר בארמית השתמשו בו לכנוי נרדף למין וצדוקי ובייתוסי
R. Simeon ben Zemah Duran, Magen Avot (Livorno, 1785), 1:2 (p. 4b), and the section of this work on Avot 2:14also called Magen Avot (Leipzig, 1855), and R. Joseph Albo, Sefer ha-Ikarim I:10, point to Epicurus as the origin of the term אפיקורוס.
In his commentary to Kelim 30:2 and Parah 1:3, Maimonides explains two Greek words with Hebrew etymologies. I see no reason to accept R. Kafih’s opinion, expressed in his notes ad loc., that in these cases Maimonides knew that the words were Greek and was simply offering a “remez.” In fact, in his commentary to Kelim 30:2 he writes explicitly:


והוא לדעתי מלה מורכבת  

If he was simply offering a “remez” he would not have written, “In my opinion,” followed by the etymology. At other times, however, it is possible that Maimonides knew that the words were Greek and he did not intend to offer a scientific etymology. This is the approach of Dror Fixler, who applies it even to the case from Kelim 30:2 just mentioned.[25]
R. Kafih is, of course, correct that the talmudic sages would at times offer a Hebrew etymology for a word that they knew was not Hebrew. The example he offers is Megillah 6a: “Why is it called Tiberias? Because it is situated in the very center of the land of Israel.” The Sages obviously knew that the city was named after a Roman emperor, and the Hebrew etymology can only be regarded as a form of midrash. Apart from modern scholarly sources that discuss the phenomenon of “judaizing” non-Hebrew words, see R. Jacob Emden, Lehem Nikudim, Avot 2:14:
וכן הוא מנהג החכמים ז"ל לגזור ממלות יוניות שמות ופעלים עברייים וארמיים.
R. Emden’s comment was precipitated by the word אפיקורוס which appears in Avot 2:14. R. Emden also mentions the word סנהדרין. See also R. Samuel Moses Rubenstein, Torat ha-Kabbalah (Warsaw, 1912), pp. 29ff. Some of R. Rubenstein’s examples are themselves speculative. For instance, he claims that the words בן דינאי in Kelim 5:10 are a “judaization” of the word “Bedouin.” 

R. Rubenstein notes a number of examples of post-talmudic authorities not realizing the real origin of a word and offering a Hebrew etymology. One of these appears in R. Ovadiah Bertinoro’s commentary to Sotah 9:11, where R. Bertinoro writes as follows regarding the Greek word “Sanhedrin.”
ונקראים סנהדרין ששונאים הדרת פנים בדין
(ש and ס are interchangeable.) Yet I wonder, is R. Rubenstein correct that R. Bertinoro is offering an actual Hebrew etymology for the word “Sanhedrin”? The passage just quoted might be no more than a “midrashic” etymology, which R. Bertinoro would acknowledge is not the real origin of the word. Jacob Reifman refers to R. Bertinoro's etymology as a דרש רחוק מאד. See Reifman, Sanhedrin (Berditchev, 1888), p. 3. He then adds:
ולא אדע עתה מאין לקח, ואולי הוא אך יליד הר"ע עצמו
Reifman was unaware that this etymology is also recorded by R. Jacob Moelin, so it could not have been original to R. Bertinoro. See Sefer Maharil, ed. Spitzer (Jerusalem, 1989), p. 611.
Even if we conclude that the etymology mentioned by R. Moelin and R. Bertinoro was simply “midrashic,” there is no reason to assume that they knew that the word סנהדרין was Greek, knowledge of which was not common among Jews of their time and place. See R. Avigdor Tzarfati, Perushim u-Fesakim le-Rabbenu Avigdor ha-Tzarfati (Jerusalem, 1996), p. 233, who does not know the word’s Greek origin and writes:
ואני שמעתי סנהדרין לשון סני דרין פי' שהיו שונאין דורונות
In this case, it does seem that R. Avigdor is offering what he thinks is the actual etymology of the word. R. Yom Tov Lippman Heller, Tosafot Yom Tov, beginning of Sanhedrin, writes that סנהדרין is an Aramaic word, so he too did not know its Greek origin.
Returning to R. Bertinoro, in his commentary to Avot 2:14 he offers an unscientific etymology of the word אפיקורוס, but he must have known who Epicurus was, so I assume that this is a “midrashic” etymology. 
לאפיקורוס: לשון הפקר שמבזה את התורה ומחשיבה כאילו היא הפקר. אי נמי משים עצמו כהפקר ואינו חס על נפשו לחוש שמא תבוא עליו רעה על שמבזה את התורה או לומדיה.
To turn to a different question, are there any examples in the Talmud where an etymology is not simply “midrashic” but intended to be taken seriously, and yet we know that it is mistaken? The Mishnah in Ketubot 15b mentions a “hinuma.” On 17b the Talmud asks what a hinuma is, and quotes R. Johanan who says: “A veil under which the bride [sometimes] slumbers (דמנמנה).” As Rashi explains, R. Johanan is making a connection between the word הינומא and מנמנה which itself is related to the word תנומה (slumber).[26]

ופעמים שמנמנמת בתוכו מתוך שאין עיניה מגולין ולכך נקרא הינומא על שם תנומה

The Arukh, s.v. הנמא, cites R. Hananel who states that hinuma is a Greek word. It is possible to understand R. Hananel as meaning that R. Johanan’s explanation was no more than a “midrashic” etymology. (This is on the assumption that he understood the passage as Rashi did.) However, this passage in R. Hananel also assumed a life of its own, as some saw it as providing support for the assumption that the Sages were not always correct in their etymologies. This matter has recently been discussed by Hanan Gafni in his fine book, “Peshutah shel Mishnah,” pp. 184ff., so there is no need for me to repeat what he has written.
Excursus 2
R. Raphael Mordechai Barishansky was shocked to read what the Rogochover said about the Vilna Gaon, as I think we all are. He responded strongly in an article in Der morgen zhurnal which was later reprinted in his Osef Mikhtavim Mehutavim (New York, 1952), pp. 167-169. Even though his words are strong, R. Barishansky shows great respect for the Rogochover. 

This is not the case with R. Abraham Aaron Yudelevitz whose attack on the Rogochover is quite sharp. It needs to be said, however, that this came after the Rogochover referred to R. Yudelevitz – who was himself an outstanding scholar – in a very negative way. In printing the Rogochover’s letter, R. Yudelevitz tells us that he cut out some of Rogochover's harshest words, but we still get the picture. The Rogochover was responding to R. Yudelevitz’s novel view that halitzah can be done with an agent, and the Rogochover referred to R. Yudelevitz as a בן סורר ומורה. See R. Yudelevitz, Av be-Hokhmah (New York, 1927), p. 82. [27]
Here is some of what R. Yudelevitz said in response, ibid., pp. 83,85-86. The language is very sharp (and also refers to how the Rogochover rejected something the Vilna Gaon wrote):
פער פיו בזלזולים כהאשה בת בוזי היושבת בשוק ומוכרת עיגולים בשער האשפתות ואולתו כפרתו כי אין קץ לשטותו ולגאותו.
אבל הוא אינו חושש לזה, לא להרמב"ם ולא להשו"ע, כי הוא חושב כי עד שבא הוא לעולם לא היתה לישראל תורה כלל כי לא הבינו תורה מאומה וממנו התחילה התורה ובו תסיים וראוי היה לו לומר דכל מי שאינו אומר כמותו יתכן כי הוא עוד גאון אבל אינו עוד גאון עצום ויחיד בדור כמוהו, אבל גאות אדם תשפילנו כתיב לכן הוא בגאותו שחקים משפיל את עצמו כי אמר רק דברים פשוטים הגונים לבור ולא גאונות והאיש שאינו אומר כמוהו הוא פחות מתלמיד בור ולא שייך בו גדר זקן ממרא ורק הוא שאומר דברי בורות יכול להיות זקן ממרא ח"ו ובאמת כי כל התורה שלנו מונחת במוחו בכח זכרונו הנפלא אבל כח הבנתו קטנה מהכיל זה (כי כח הזכרון וכח הבנה באדם הם שני כחות נגדיים זה לזה כידוע), ולכן הוא מבולבל ומשוגע ומקיים מ"ע והיית משוגע בכל פרטיה ודקדוקיה כראוי לצדיק ובגודל חסידותיה הוא מבטל גם דברי הגר"א מווילנא זצ"ל והוא יושב בעינים על הדרך כי תורתו מלאה עינים, עיין עיין, אבל אינה ברה מאירת עינים רק סמיות עינים.
Regarding the Vilna Gaon, I know of only one other figure in the twentieth century who expressed a somewhat critical view of him and that is R. Nahum Ben-Horim. Here is his picture.
  
I found the picture on this website, which is an ongoing translation of the important eight volume Leksikon fun der nayer yidisher literatur, which contains over 7000 names. The translator is Professor Joshua Fogel who, you might be surprised to learn, is not a Yiddishist. He is a professor of Chinese and Japanese history at York University in Toronto. In addition to his numerous publications in Chinese and Japanese Studies (almost fifty books written, translated, or edited), he has also published four volumes on the Talmud. See here. I think readers will find the introduction to his book on Tractate Avodah Zarah particularly interesting. See here. Fogel is just one of the many people whose lives have been enriched by the ArtScroll translation of the Talmud.
Ben-Horim, the author of Hakhmei ha-Talmud (Jerusalem, 1922) on R. Yohanan ben Zakai (among other books), was a very minor figure, but it is interesting nonetheless to see what he had to say. The following is a letter that I found here in the Chaim Bloch papers at the Leo Baeck Institute, AR7155-7156, p. 950.
 

As you can see, he writes as follows about the Vilna Gaon.
והוא בעצמו היה רחוק מאורחא דמהימנותא והראיה כי רדף צדיקים תמימים באף והחרים אותם. הגר"א היה בעל שכל חריף וגאון בידיעות אולם הוא לא היה מעיילי בלא בר לפני ולפנים וטעה והטעה רבים.
When he writes that the Gaon was not מעיילי בלא בר לפני ולפנים, this is a disparaging remark which comes from Sanhedrin 97b and means that the Gaon was not among those “who enter [the heavenly court] without restriction.”
It is also shocking to see Ben-Horim write:
מי שיודע ללמוד מעט או הרבה אסור לו להיות טפש ובעל גאוה וכאלה היו רבים בין הראשונים.
Returning to R. Yudelevitz, here is a picture of him that I previously posted.
He is on the right and R. Gavriel Zev Margulies is on the left. The picture is from 1925 and was taken outside the White House. R. Yudelevitz and R. Margulies were part of a delegation that met with President Calvin Coolidge. For a detailed discussion of R. Yudelevitz and the halitzah controversy, see R. Yoel Hirsch's Yiddish article here. For another informative article by Hirsch on R. Yudelevitz, see here.
Everyone assumes that the idea of halitzah with an agent originated with R. Yudelevitz. However, R. Isaac Raphael Ashkenazi, the rav of Ancona, refers to this notion in a responsum from 1884.[28] He mentions that the rabbi of Modena (whose name is not mentioned) suggested doing halitzah with an agent. R. Ashkenazi strongly rejects this suggestion:
כי דבר זה מתנגד לפשט הכתובים ולשורש המצוה כאשר יבין בנקל כל מבין
Regarding halitzah, you can see an actual ceremony here and here, with R. Aryeh Ralbag presiding.
* * * * * *
1. It has been a while since I had a quiz, so here goes. In the current post I mentioned the prohibition of Torah study on Tisha be-Av. This is an example where the halakhah of Tisha be-Av is stricter than that of Yom Kippur. Many authorities rule that there is also something else that is forbidden on Tisha be-Av but permitted on Yom Kippur. Answers should be sent to me.
2. In my last post I raised the question as to why Middot and Kinnim are the only Mishnaic tractates included in Daf Yomi. Menachem Kagan, himself a Daf Yomi magid shiur, wrote to me that only these tractates of the Mishnah are included in the Vilna Shas as if they are talmudic tractates, by which I mean that they continue the page numbers of other talmudic tractates. We do not know why these mishnaic tractates were included in the Vilna Shas in this fashion, but this is certainly the reason why they were included in Daf Yomi. As to why only Shekalim from the Jerusalem Talmud is included in Daf Yomi, Kagan correctly notes that by including Shekalim the entire order of Moed is complete.
3. Betzalel Shandelman sent me the title page of a vocalized edition of the Mishnah Berurah. As you can see, R. Moses Rivkes’ name is vocalized as Ravkash. Shandelman also sent me the title page of the Oz ve-Hadar edition of the Mishnah Berurah and it does the same thing. I have never seen this vocalization before and it is incorrect. His name was Rivkes, which is from the word Rivkah, supposedly the name of his mother. Similarly, R. Joel Sirkes was called this, as his mother’s name was Sarah. R. Moses Isserles was called this as his father’s name was Israel. The pattern is clear: Rivkes, Sirkes, Isserles.[29] In each case the final letter is a sin, not a shin.

4. Readers have sometimes asked for a list of places where I will be speaking. It happens that there are a number of places in the next couple of months.
December 1-2, 2017, Shaarey Zedek, Valley Village, CA.
December 15-16, 2017, Ohel Leah, Hong Kong

December 29-30, 2017, Shaare Shalom and Kingsway Jewish Center, Brooklyn. On Saturday night, Dec. 30, 7:30pm at Kingsway Jewish Center I will be speaking on "Are We Really One? Orthodox Separatism from Germany until Today."
January 5-6, 2018, Young Israel of Holliswood, Queens
January 19-20, 2018, Skylake Synagogue, North Miami Beach.
I will also be at Majestic Retreats’ wonderful Passover program in Fort Lauderdale.


[1] R. Shlomo Yosef Zevin, Ishim ve-Shitot (Jerusalem, 2007), pp. 75-76. R. Zevin, p. 75, also mentions that the Rogochover learnt Torah on Tisha be-Av.
[2] Alei Tamar, Berakhot, vol. 1, p. 96b.
[3] Orhot Rabbenu: Ba’al ha-“Kehilot Ya’akov” (Bnei Brak, 2001), vol. 4, p. 184.
[4] Nit’ei Gavriel, Avelut, p. 551 (ch. 106). In his discussion, R. Zinner calls attention to the fascinating information in R. Hayyim Karlinsky, Ha-Rishon le-Shoshelet Brisk (Jerusalem, 1984), p. 321, that when R. Joseph Baer Soloveitchik (the Beit ha-Levi) was sitting shiva for his father, he wanted people to tell him Torah insights from his father. When asked if this is not forbidden as Torah study during avelut, R. Soloveitchik replied:

חידושי תורה של הנפטר לא זו בלבד שמותר לבנו האבל לשמוע, אלא אדרבה! מצוה לו לשמעו. שכן מלבד שיש בהם משום זכות לנשמתו של הנפטר . . . הרי הם מגדילים ומרבים את צערו ויגונו של האבל בהעריכו יותר את אבידתו הגדולה בפטירת אביו.

[5] See e.g., R. Avraham Yekutiel Ohev Tziyon, Ya’alat Hen, vol. 1, p. 290; R. Hayyim Kanievsky. Derekh Sihah (Bnei Brak, 2004), 487.
[6] R. Abraham Weinfeld, Lev Avraham, no. 98.
[7] See R. Chaim Rapoport, “Sipurim Temuhim . . .,” Hearot u-Veurim 33:2 (2013), pp. 55-67, for an excellent discussion of the matter.
[8] R. Joseph Karo cites the passage from the Yerushalmi in Beit YosefYoreh Deah 384, but adds that this view was not accepted. Shibolei ha-Leket, ed. Buber (Vilna, 1887), Hilkhot Semahot no. 26 (p. 177), appears to be the only rishon to accept the Yerushalmi’s position. See R. Ovadiah Yosef, Yabia Omer, vol. 2, Yoreh Deah no. 26:3.
[9] R. Hayyim Kanievsky. Derekh Sihah, p. 487, thinks that the Yerushalmi's position is why the Rogochover studied Torah while sitting shiva, but he did not want to tell people that this was his reason, presumably, because this would seem haughty. There are examples of other great scholars who studied Torah while sitting shiva, and they indeed explained their behavior by citing the Yerushalmi. See e.g., R. David Falk, Be-Torato Yehegeh (Jerusalem, 2012), p. 76. Yet this still remains problematic for some. See e.g., R. Moshe Shulzinger, Peninei Rabenu Yehezkel (Zikhron Meir, 1992), vol. 1, p. 48, who cites an unnamed “gaon” who did not approve of using the heter of the Yerushalmi and commented:

איך אפשר שהדין הנפסק שאבל אסור בת"ת נאמר רק ליושבי קרנות, ולא לת"ח המבינים ומרגישים בתורה כי היא חייהם ולהוטים אחרי', אתמהה.

It is reported that while sitting shiva, R. Hayyim Soloveitchik studied in depth those Torah subjects that are only permitted to be studied in a perfunctory way. See Kamenetsky, Making of a Godol, p. 932. Kamenetsky also quotes R. Joseph B. Soloveitchik that according to R. Hayyim study that is not in depth is not even regarded as Torah study
[10] Speaking of antinomianism, see Yehudah le-Kodsho (Tel Aviv, 2001), vol. 3, pp. 117-118, where the hasidic rebbe R. Shlomo Eger of Lublin writes to the Rogochover arguing that as long as some prayer is said in the morning in the זמן תפילה, one can recite the morning Amidah after this time: יכולין להתפלל אימת שירצה. Unfortunately, we do not have the Rogochover’s response to R. Eger, in which he certainly would have blasted this unprecedented suggestion.
[11] BenayahuBerakhot 24b (p. 8a(.
[12] See Rapoport, “Sipurim Temuhim,” (above, n. 16), pp. 63-64. See ibid., note 50, for the numerous places in the Rebbe’s works where the story is found.
[13] For an interesting hasidic passage that includes Tisha be-Av but focuses on fasting rather than learning Torah, and includes a shocking comment about the Anshei Keneset ha-Gedolah, see R. Abraham Yelin, Derekh Tzadikim (Petrokov, 1912), pp. 13b-14b (emphasis added):

ושמעתי מחסיד ישיש א' שנסע להרה"ק ר' יחזקאל מקאזמיר ז"ל שהוא היה מקיל גדול בתעניות, ואמר שאנשי כנסה"ג שתקנו התעניות מתביישין על שלא הסתכלו בדורות אלו, וסיפר כמה ענינים מקולותיו שהיה קשה לי לכתוב, ובשם רבינו הקדוש ז"ל מפאריסאב שמעתי שאמר בזה"ל מוזהר ועומד אני מהה"ק ר' נתן דוד ז"ל משידלאווצע לדרוש ברבים ששום אשה שראויה עדיין לילד לא תתענה כ"א ביום הקדוש, ולכן עכ"פ אדרוש זאת לידידיי.

I will deal with fasting in my next post.
[14] See the Vilna Gaon’s commentary and Tiferet Yisrael, ad loc. See also the Vilna Gaon’s commentary to I Chron. 1:4.
[15] Em la-Mikra, Gen. 10:2.
[16] Bayit Ne’eman 41 (17 Kislev 5777), p. 2. R. Mazuz cites R. Benamozegh. See also R. Mazuz, Mi-Gedolei Yisrael, vol. 3, p. 55.
[17] See Excursus 1.
[18] Kohut, Arukh ha-Shalem, s.v. גרמן, also did not know this, as he writes:

הרמב"ם גוזרו מלשון גרם עצם, וקשה להלמו!

[19] There are two “volume 1” of the Tzafnat Paneah. The one I refer to is the volume published by Mrs. Rachel Citron, the Rogochover’s daughter.
[20] See Yair Borochov, Ha-Rogochovi (n.p., n.d.), p. 179, for a report that the Rogochover suggested that the head pains he suffered from were punishment for perhaps having treated rishonim and aharonim without the proper respect. There is something very strange in this book on p. 176, which is cited מפי השמועה (see sources on p. 419). Borochov states that the Rogochover’s opinion was that Muslims are worshipers of avodah zarah, as they worship the moon! This is so absurd that it is difficult to believe that the Rogochover could have said it. Borochov then states:

והגאון המשיך: הרמב"ם לא פסק שהם עובדי עבודה זרה, כיוון שהוא התגורר בארצות האיסלם ופסק כזה היה בגדר סכנה ופיקוח נפש.

It is simply impossible to believe that the Rogochover could have said something so outlandish.
[21] See Excursus 2.
[22] Regarding the Rogochover's harsh comments about other great Torah scholars, and how he referred to these scholars,  Zevuluni writes:


  התבטאויותיו החריפות כלפי רבים מגדולי התורה בדורו ואף בדורות הקודמים, לא גרמו בדרך כלל למרירות ולנטירת  איבה . . . הוא היה נוהג לקרוא לגדולי הדור ואף בדורות הקודמים בשמותיהם הפרטיים

Zevuluni records the following story that he heard from the Rogochover. The Rogochover was once a dayan in a large monetary dispute. After a compromise was reached, the litigants put a significant amount of money on the table as payment to the dayanim. The other two dayanim refused to take the money and the Rogochover therefore took it all. He explained that the Talmud, Hagigah 4a, states: Who is [deemed] an imbecile (shoteh)? One that destroys all that is given to him. The Rogochover said that one would have expected the Talmud to say, One that destroys all that he has rather than all that is given to him. From here, the Rogochover stated, there is a proof that if someone gives you something and you refuse to accept it, that you are an imbecile. The Rogochover added, I do not want to to included in this category.

Kamenetsky, Making of a Godol, also records comments of the Rogochover about other Torah scholars. See e.g., p. 743 n. i, that in 1934 the Rogochover said that there is no one in Eretz Yisrael who knows how to learn.

Interestingly, on p. 739, Kamenetsky quotes his father that R. Hayyim Soloveitchik and R. David Friedman of Karlin were greater scholars than the Rogochover.
[23] I discuss this matter in Between the Yeshiva World and Modern Orthodoxy, pp. 152-153, and in “Torah im Derekh Eretz in the Shadow of Hitler,” Torah u-Madda Journal 14 (2006-2007), pp. 85-86.
[24] In Modern Hebrew the word מעין is pronounced ma’ayan, as if there is a patah under the ayin. In reality, there is a sheva under the ayin. See Yehoshua Blau, “Al ha-Mivneh ha-Murkav shel ha-Ivrit ha-Hadashah le-Umat ha-Ivrit she-ba-Mikra,”Leshonenu 54 (2000), pp. 105-106.
[25] See Fixler, “Perush ha-Rambam le-Milim ha-Yevaniyot she-ba-Mishnah,” Asif 2: Tanakh u-Mahashavah (2015), pp. 384-393.
[26] Rashi’s explanation is not without problems. See R. Weinberg, Seridei Esh, vol. 3, p. 87.
[27] R. Elijah David Rabinowitz-Teomim also was very critical of the Rogochover, yet any such comments have been censored in his published writings. However, one passage was published from manuscript in Shmuel Koll, Ehad be-Doro (Tel Aviv, 1970), vol. 1, p. 202:
 והרב ר' יוסף ראזין נ"י הנקרא הראגאצובער מדינאבורג, אמר שדברי הח"ס הם דברי שטות  ונבהלתי לשמוע קלות הדעת ממי שהוא רב יושב כסאות למשפט הוראה לדבר דברים כאלה על אור עולם הח"ס ז"ל, אשר בצדקתו ורוחב לבבו כפתחו של אולם הוא כאחד הראשונים ומי כמוהו מורה בכל חדרי תורה, ובעוה"ר רבו הקופצים בראש שלא למדו כל צרכן, ולא שימשו כל עיקר שמוש ת"ח, אשר לחד מ"ד עדיין הוא ע"ה כבברכות מ"ז ב', חבל על דאית לי' דרתא ותרעה לדרתי' ל"ע, ואף למאן דל"ל גם דרתא

[28] Va-Ya’an Yitzhak, Even ha-Ezer, no. 15.
[29] When I say “the pattern” I mean the pronunciation of the first syllable, as Isserles was actually probably pronounced “Israls.” The final “s” is a possessive so Moses Israls (Isserles) = “Moses of Israel”, Joel Sirkes = “Joel of Sirka (Sarah), and Moses Rivkes = “Moses of Rivkah.” See R. Hayyim Yitzhak Cohen’s letter in Or Yisrael 45 (Tishrei 5767), p. 252. Other surnames that come from a female progenitor are, as Shimon Steinmetz reminded me, Chajes, Edels, and Pesseles. I assume that Perles is also to be included in this list. I do not know about the name Fleckeles, but there is a place in Germany called Fleckl, so that might be the origin.

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